Patio Furniture for Different Weather Conditions
The Best Outdoor Furniture Materials for Every Climate
If you’ve been to any furniture stores recently, you’ve probably noticed something peculiar: showrooms everywhere are just about sold out of outdoor furniture. But, here’s the secret: it’s not just a supply-chain issue. That’s right, when it comes to outdoor furniture, stores everywhere are selling out of their wares because their customers are buying outdoor goods in truly record-breaking numbers.
With all this outdoor shopping going on, the experts at Furniture Row got together to determine what information would be most helpful to people as they scour the market for stylish open-air finds. The answer quickly became obvious: We take pride in the fact that our salespeople don’t pressure our customers. Instead, they are trained to provide only relevant and useful information so that our customers can make the decision for themselves. So, why not do the same thing here?
In order to provide the most helpful information, our experts have curated a list of today’s most popular outdoor materials, complete with their strengths, weaknesses, and the weather conditions they’re best suited for, so that our readers can come to their own conclusions about which material is best for their needs.
The Golden Age of outdoor furniture
Before we dive right in, it’s important to understand just why exactly people are now putting more time and effort into decorating their outside spaces.
One obvious reason is in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, but, as anyone in the furniture business can tell you, this “outside mindset” is actually part of a trend that’s been developing over the last few decades. While there are many cultural factors driving this trend, one of the biggest reasons might surprise you. According to many in the field, the primary reason for this newfound attitude is that we are currently living in the “Golden Age” of outdoor furniture.
Yep, you heard correctly. In recent years there have been groundbreaking innovations in the world of outdoor furniture, resulting in a variety of weather-resistant materials that are making it possible to make outdoor spaces just as comfortable as indoor ones. Instead of choosing between a wrought iron dining set or wooden picnic table, people are now able to design an outdoor living space in the same way they would design the living room in their home. Modern fabrics are allowing for truly comfy outdoor couches. Weather-proof synthetics can imitate the look of wood and last a lifetime. Sophisticated finishes can make “high maintenance” natural materials weatherproof and hassle free. With all of these innovations now widespread in the market, it’s no wonder that many of us are changing the way we look at our exteriors.
The leading culprits in weather-related damage
Now, it’s easy to get carried away in the excitement of bringing indoor comforts to outdoor spaces with today’s new materials, but this doesn’t mean you should take home the first high-end outdoor set that you see. Remember, it’s almost impossible to create a material that’s completely impervious to life in the elements. Mother Nature is still the #1 concern in the life of outside furniture, and it pays to understand just how damaging different weather effects can be.
When left outside, furniture is exposed to a variety of conditions, but the primary sources of concern when it comes to weather-related damage are moisture, sunlight, extreme temperatures, and wind.
Moisture refers to obvious weather conditions like rain and snow, but it can also refer to more subtle dangers like humidity and salty coastal air. Moisture can cause metal to rust, wood to warp and rot, and it can cause fabrics to break down or develop mold and mildew.
While it makes outdoor living enjoyable, sunlight can actually be quite harmful to certain outdoor materials. Specifically, the ultra-violet rays in sunlight can cause the colors applied to outdoor materials to fade significantly.
Extreme temperatures, either extreme surface temperatures or extreme changes in temperature, can also be harmful to outdoor furniture. Most materials expand and contract when they are heated or cooled, and some materials are better at dealing with this process than others. Materials that are not able to withstand extreme temperatures can crack, split, or become brittle. Other materials can develop high surface temperatures and become uncomfortable or painful to the touch.
Wind is the most easily understood of the harmful weather conditions. While moving air doesn’t harm furniture as it passes by, strong winds are a problem for lightweight outdoor pieces as they are easily blown over or carried away. Additionally, strong winds can carry things like branches which can damage to softer outdoor materials
The best outdoor furniture materials for every type of weather
Along with understanding weather-related damage, another thing to remember when it comes to furnishing your outside space is that modern weather-resistant materials are often expensive, and there are a few affordable materials that people have been using for years which are still on par with today’s most advanced innovations.
With so much to think about, finding the right outdoor material at the right price can really be a headache. But, that’s why we’re here! The expertly-curated list below provides information on the top performing modern and traditional outdoor materials that are all likely to be found at your favorite furniture store, so you only have to focus on finding the right product for your space and budget.
Metals have always been highly sought after when it comes to designing high-quality outdoor furniture due to their exceptional strength and durability. While metals are generally well suited for life in the great outdoors, not all metals are created equal*.
*It should be noted here that this list contains accurate information regarding the intrinsic strengths and weaknesses of various metals. As mentioned above, there are some modern finishing techniques currently available that are capable of removing these weaknesses to a large extent. The most prevalent of these is called “powder coating” which is far superior to paint and can make many metals significantly more water and rust-resistant.
Strengths: Heavy, long-lasting, not easily damaged
Weaknesses: Rusts easily (unless powder-coated), difficult to move, surface temperatures can become extreme
Wrought iron has been used to create beautiful outdoor furniture for centuries. It is highly durable and perfect for windy climates because the metal itself is heavy and more dense than most other materials found outside. The problem with wrought iron furniture is that it rusts easily and can be difficult to move around. Wrought iron can withstand extreme temperatures without being damaged, but it also retains temperatures easily and can often become too hot or cold to the touch depending on where you live. Because of its hardness and ability to retain extreme temperatures, wrought iron pieces usually require some sort of fabric cushioning to make sure they are comfortable in all seasons.
Strengths: Durable, inexpensive, resists rust, and easy-to-clean
Weaknesses: Can be too lightweight for certain areas, surface temperatures can become extreme
Aluminum is currently the most commonly used metal when it comes to outdoor furniture frames because many of its intrinsic qualities make it perfect for outdoor living. Aluminum is lightweight, highly-durable, and it resists rust and moisture damage better than most other metals. On top of this, aluminum is inexpensive and easy to work with which makes it highly desirable to manufacturers and consumers alike. While it’s easy to transport, the one real problem with aluminum is that it is so lightweight that it tends to blow over in the presence of high winds. Also, like other metals, aluminum tends to become hot or cold quite easily, and it can become uncomfortable if not covered by shade or some sort of fabric cushioning.
Strengths: Highly durable, exceptional rust-resistance, easy-to-clean, often made from recycled materials
Weaknesses: Expensive, surface temperatures can become too extreme
Heavier than aluminum but lighter than wrought iron, stainless steel is a fantastic option for a variety of weather conditions. Steel is extremely dense, durable, and almost dent-proof; and it is the most rust-resistant metal on the market (although it can still be powder coated to combat corrosion due to salty coastal air). Stainless steel is easy to clean, offers a sleek modern look, and it is often made from recycled materials. Like other metals, stainless steel can become too hot or cold to the touch in certain conditions, but the only real drawback to stainless steel is that it is one of the most expensive metals on the market.
Wood has been a beloved material in the world of outdoor furniture for years because it’s easy to work with and beautiful in any setting. That being said, wood is also subject to more of the negative effects of weather than any other material on this list. These negative effects include warping, cracking, fading, and rotting, and they are primarily caused by water damage and changing temperatures. Through the years, furniture makers have learned that most of these effects can be mitigated through use of finishes, stains, and sealants, but that doesn’t mean that every type of wood is able to withstand life in the great outdoors. While there are a plethora of types of wood available to furniture producers, they are often divided into two categories based on which species of tree they come from: hardwoods and softwoods.
Strengths: Strong, long-lasting, water-resistant, able to withstand extreme temperatures
Weaknesses: Difficult to work with, can’t be painted, and expensive
Hardwoods come from deciduous trees called Angiosperms, and they include some well known species such as Maple, Walnut, and Oak. Hardwood trees grow slowly which makes them more expensive, and the wood they produce is dense, close-grained, and has a high oil content. Broadly speaking, hardwoods can be seen as a natural fit in the outdoor furniture world because they’re strong, long-lasting, water-resistant, and able to deal with changing temperatures without warping or cracking. Because of their density and oil content, hardwoods are not able to be painted, though they can accept certain finishes to make them even more weather-resistant. Some notable examples of high quality-outdoor hardwoods are Teak, Shorea, Acacia, and Ipe
Strengths: Easy to work with, take finishes easily and beautifully, inexpensive, and eco-friendly when compared to hardwoods
Weaknesses: Poor longevity, prone to water damage (unless sealed properly), can be too lightweight for certain areas
Softwoods come from seed-bearing evergreen trees called Gymnosperms, and they include species such as Pine, Spruce, and Fir. Softwood trees grow quickly and are generally less dense than hardwoods which makes their wood less durable, but this same quality makes them easier to work with and more environmentally-friendly. Softwoods are more prone to weather damage, but they are also better able to absorb weather-resistant finishes. It is commonly believed that softwoods are typically better suited to indoor environments, but many softwoods can be used outdoors so long as they are properly treated to resist moisture. Some notable examples of high-quality outdoor softwoods are Cedar, Cypress, and Redwood
Man-made synthetic materials, such as plastics and resins, are typically lightweight, inexpensive, and able to take on a variety of unique shapes. On top of this, synthetics are virtually impervious to water damage, and they are naturally fade-resistant because their color isn’t applied externally, it’s part of the composition of the material itself. Now more than ever, advanced manufacturing processes and the discovery of new hybrid compositions are enabling furniture makers to create truly unique and head-turning pieces using these modern materials.
Strengths: inexpensive, fade-resistant
Weaknesses: Most brittle synthetic, can be too lightweight for certain areas
In the past, most outdoor deck furniture was made with a type of plastic called Polyethylene(PE). Polyethylene furniture is inexpensive, but is relatively brittle and prone to weather damage unless it’s made with the high-density version of polyethylene (HDPE). Like other plastics, Polyethylene is fade-resistant, lightweight, and able to take on a variety of unique shapes.
Strengths: Durable, eco-friendly, impervious to water damage, fade-resistant, can withstand extreme temperatures without discomfort, inexpensive
Weaknesses: Can be too lightweight for certain areas
Recycled Plastic is a hybrid plastic which is made from recycled milk cartons, shampoo bottles, and other plastic consumer goods. Recycled plastic furniture is one of the best rated outdoor furniture materials In both style and performance. This is because it’s extraordinarily strong, extremely durable, and, like all plastics, it’s impervious to moisture, rotting, salt water, and stains. Once of Recycled Platic’s best qualities that it’s usually made to resemble wood with high accuracy while requiring none of the care and maintenance that real wood does. Top top it off, because it’s made from recycled materials, Recycled Plastic is considered to be environmentally-friendly.
Strengths: Fade-resistant, impervious to water damage, can withstand extreme temperatures without discomfort
Weaknesses: Can be too lightweight for certain areas
Synthetic Resin, or synthetic polyethylene resin, is used to make almost all of today’s outdoor wicker furniture. There are a few varieties of synthetic resin wicker, and most of them share the same qualities. Synthetic wicker delivers all of the traditional good looks of plant-based wicker, but with almost none of the downsides. Synthetic resins are extremely weather-resistant, and almost all of the high quality varieties come with fade-resistant UV protection. Like other plastics, the main drawback of synthetic resin wicker is that it is too lightweight for windy climates, although this can be mitigated if it is wound around a heavy enough frame.
Because natural fabrics are well known to be ill-suited to outdoor environments, almost all of the fabrics used to create contemporary outdoor furnishings are synthetic. The good news here is that there are only a few types of fabrics that you need to understand in order to make a smart purchase. Although they may be marketed under different brand names, almost all synthetic outdoor fabrics seen today are made of acrylic, olefin, or polyester fibers.
Additionally, when it comes to synthetic outdoor fabrics, it’s important to understand that they are all actually quite robust when it comes to strength, flexibility, and moisture management, which refers to their ability to resist water and dry quickly. Because of this, synthetic outdoor fabrics are suitable for both dry and rainy climates. The most important quality to consider when looking at synthetic fabrics is lightfastness, the fabric’s ability to resist fading when exposed to UV light, followed by stain-resistance and feel.
Strengths: Highly durable, exceptional lightfastness, water-resistant, and comfortable
Weaknesses: Expensive and stains fairly easily
Currently, acrylic fabrics are the best all-around fabrics for outdoor furniture. They stand up to wear-and-tear; they’re water resistant; mold and mildew resistant; and they offer premium UV protection for color that doesn’t fade season after season. Acrylic fabrics are also breathable and soft to the touch, making them ideal for a range of upholstered outdoor furnishings. Although they are generally easy to care for, acrylic fabrics can be relatively easy to stain when not treated with a stain treatment bath. All in all, the only real problem with acrylic outdoor fabrics is that they are the most expensive fabric listed.
Strengths: Inexpensive, highly durable, exceptional lightfastness, water-resistant, and stain-resistant
Weaknesses: Not as soft to the touch as other outdoor fabrics
Olefin fabrics are also an amazing option for outdoor spaces. Olefin is a byproduct of refining petroleum, and olefin fabrics offer roughly the same strength, durability, and water-resistance, as acrylic fabrics. Importantly, olefin fabrics are also just as fade-proof as acrylic fabrics, but they are significantly less expensive. To top it off, olefin fabrics are the most stain-resistant of all of the fabrics listed. Although they’re breathable and smooth, the biggest drawback of olefin fabrics is that they are generally not as soft as acrylic or polyester fabrics. With that being said, olefin fabrics are incredibly robust outdoor materials, and they are highly recommended, especially if acrylic is outside of your price range.
Strengths: Affordable, soft touch, water-resistant, strong
Weaknesses: Poor lightfastness
Polyester is last on many people’s list when it comes to fade-proof outdoor fabrics, but, that being said, polyester is an extremely strong, flexible, and water-resistant material. Because of the way that it is dyed, polyester is able to be mass produced with bright colors and prints, but these colors will fade much faster than those found on acrylic and olefin fabrics. Not to be completely overlooked, polyester is extremely affordable and it’s one of the softest outdoor fabrics on the market. Because of these factors, our experts believe that polyester is best suited for outdoor throw pillows, blankets, and other similar products intended for seasonal use.
Now that you have a firm grasp on which materials make the most sense for your local climate, you’re ready to get out there and design the outdoor space of your dreams, rain or shine.